11 – Philippians 2:5-11: Propitiation


“Have the same attitude and disposition that Christ Jesus had. Although He had the divine nature, He did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but divested Himself of all privileges and dignity, taking on the form of a servant and became like mortal men. And appearing in human form, He abased Himself in obedience, stooping to die the death of a criminal on the cross. That is why God has raised Him to the highest place and conferred upon Him the name supreme above all names, so that in adoration of the name of Jesus everyone should kneel, including all beings in heaven, in earth and in the underworld, and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (paraphrased)

Paul continues to plead for unity among the Philippians. Their situation provides him with the opportunity to launch into what is often regarded as the greatest Christological passage in the Bible. To this church that he loves so much, Paul sets forth Jesus as the supreme example of obedience and selflessness. The attitude of humility Paul describes is epitomized in the life of Jesus. Paul uses Christ’s birth and death to illustrate how humility is related to unity. Although we cannot understand our own human nature, this passage helps us to comprehend the nature of God Himself. All attempts to explain the dual nature of Jesus’ deity and humanity ultimately fail us for words.

This magnificent passage reflects Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:29 where He refers to Himself as “lowly.” In this portion of Scripture, Paul shows how the life of Jesus redefines the concept of meekness, making it a foundational Christian virtue. There is no other passage where the opposite extremes of Jesus’ magnanimity and humility are brought into such sharp comparison. The contrast in this passage is between what He was in His pre-incarnate state and what He became during His days on earth. Paul shows the difference between Jesus’ true inner character and how He appears in the eyes of men. 

Although Bible commentators have tried to explain the richness of this passage for centuries, no exegesis can do justice to the depth of this text. This portion of Scripture is so renowned, it has assumed its own title: The Kenosis. The word is derived from the Greek ekenosen, meaning “to empty,” for these verses place emphasis upon the self-emptying of Christ. The passage is so dynamic, it must be divided into two parts for diagnosis: verses 5-8 and verses 9-11.

v. 5
“let this mind”
“Mind” (phroneo) refers to our deepest thought—the innermost musings of our hearts. Our evaluation of circumstances must reflect the same attitude with which Christ faced challenges. Jesus willingly divests Himself of His royal robes of divinity to put on the sackcloth of humanity. Having the “mind of Christ” means striving to think as He thought, guided by an attitude of selflessness (I Cor. 2:16). The attitude of Christ is reflected in service to others (Luke 22:27).

“be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”
A more accurate translation is “be in your hearts.” Paul desires that the church at Philippi see things through Jesus’ eyes, while maintaining the standards His life exemplified. The Son of God never kisses anyone’s feet…but He does wash some. Jesus models servant leadership when He cleans the feet of His disciples the night before He dies. John the Baptist said, “I am not worthy to loosen His sandals” (John 1:27), as if in preparation to wash His feet. Jesus comes to minister, not to be ministered to (Matt. 20:28). He never allows His divine nature to overshadow His servanthood. Having the “mind of Christ” is best expressed by selfless service.

v. 6
“who, being in the form of God”
The term “form of God” (enmorphetheou) refers to the manifestation of the glory of Jesus in His pre-incarnate state, while verse seven expresses the manifestation of His godly humility in His incarnate state. “Form” (morphe) does not suggest a disguise, nor the outward appearance or bodily form or shape, but rather expresses the inner, essential, abiding nature and character of God. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (II Cor. 4:4). Though He possesses the attributes of deity, He takes upon Himself the attributes of a servant. The nature of the Father is perfectly manifested and exemplified throughout Jesus’ earthly life.”

“thought it”
“Thought” means a judgment based on facts. Here we get a glimpse of what Jesus is actually thinking, allowing us insight into His heart. Paul takes us back to the pre-incarnate state of Christ that John refers to when he writes “the Logos became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Jesus never views His mission as competing with His Father’s will, but as complementary to His Father’s will. By His obedience, Jesus demonstrates our salvation is more important to Him than remaining in heaven. By suffering the horrific agonies of the Cross, He demonstrates the importance of redemption.

“not robbery”
“Robbery (harpagmos) does not imply theft, but rather means “to snatch violently or to hold fast.” It is used in the passive sense concerning something that is seized. Jesus does not consider His deity a treasure to be retained at all costs, a prize that must not slip from His grasp. Jesus does not need to clutch what He already possesses. By taking human form, He temporarily de-emphasizes His equality with God. Christ does not concern Himself with retaining the outer manifestations of deity He has before His incarnation and after His ascension. Harpagmos (robbery) is interpreted as “holding onto a privilege which might become an advantage should the possessor chose to exploit it.” But Jesus steadfastly refuses to use His position for any selfish reason. For example, when He is hungry, He does not turn stones into bread (Luke 4:3-4). He is not stealing honor from God when He accepts the honor men give Him. He does not consider His equality with the Father as something obtained dishonestly. He does not exploit His position and privileges, for that is at cross purposes with His Father’s will. 

“to be equal with God”
Christ holds a unique position within the Godhead. Although He can assert His rights, He chooses to waive them. Jesus surrenders certain aspects of His deity in order to embrace His Father’s will. He opts to shroud His glory within His humanity. However, in divesting Himself of some prerogatives, Jesus does not detract anything from His own glory or His Father’s glory. He states that He and His Father are one (John 10:30) and those who behold Him behold the Father (John 14:9). They seek to kill Him when He claims equality with God (John 5:18). His enemies do not understand that He only does things that please the Father (John 8:29).

v. 7

“but made himself of no reputation”
Whereas humans often struggle to build a good reputation, the Son of God does not. “Reputation” is kenoo, meaning to deprive oneself of something. This phrase is found only here in the New Testament. It carries the idea that He voluntarily divests Himself in order to fill the subordinate position as the Lamb of God. Because Jesus does not consider His reputation among men to be important, He renounces His right to he honored.

“He empties Himself” (heauton ekenosen) of certain rights and privileges, while not detracting from His deity in any way. The Lord does not use His divine powers for His own benefit. Exactly what He willingly forfeits is best interpreted in light of the verses that follow.

Jesus surrenders none of His divine attributes, only His external, glorious manifestation as God. He allows His glory to shine briefly only once prior to His resurrection on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:32). Jesus could have chosen to return to heaven that day but he returns from that mount to climb a mount called Calvary.

Verses 7-8 embody three aspects of Jesus’ thirty-three years on earth:

His birth: “made in the likeness of men”  v. 7
His life:  “form of a servant”   v. 7
His death: “the cross”   v. 8

“and took upon him the form”
The term “form” (morphe) is a key word in this passage. This is the same term used of Jesus being in the morphe of God in verse six and carries the same meaning. “Form” refers to characteristic attributes, not mere external similarities. It is the outward expression of the true inner nature and character; the essence of an individual. Whereas form refers to what He was, fashion refers to His physical appearance (v. 8).

The self-emptying of Jesus is in the heart of the Father prior to creation. His deity pre-dates His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus does not become a servant when He comes to earth, for servanthood is an inseparable characteristic of God’s nature. While He does did not shun His incarnation, neither does He “become God” at His incarnation. He is God manifested in human form (I Tim. 3:16). He tells those who mock Him He existed prior to Abraham (John 8:58). Though He temporarily loses the appearance of God, He never loses His essential nature as God. Jesus could not have fulfilled His Father’s will had He appeared among us in His heavenly glorified state.

“of a servant”
A fundamental aspect of God’s nature is pro-active empathy. Jesus demonstrates this by taking a servant’s place. Ministry to others characterizes His life. The phrase form of a servant is a concise description of His humanity. The Son of Man comes into the world, “not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Son of God willingly condescends from sovereignty to servanthood.

“and is made in the likeness of men”
“Likeness” (homoiomati) means He looks like other men, possessing all the essential attributes of humanity, He appears in human form as an ordinary man. While becoming human does not diminish His deity, it does serve to demonstrate it. Note the plural “men” is used here, for Christ does not represent just one man, but the entire human race. 

v. 8
“and being found in fashion as a man”
Three words, morphe (form), homoiomati (likeness) and schemati (fashioned), all serve to show that, although Jesus is Christ incarnate, He walks among people as another human being. “Fashion” is schemati, from which the English word “schematic” evolved. The term refers to how He appears in human form. The contrast concerns what Jesus actually is (God) and what He appears to be (man). He wears the clothes of His generation and speaks Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Isaiah 53 indicates there is nothing in his appearance that makes Him stand out in a crowd.

“he humbled himself”
This form of the word “humbled” (tapeinoo) is used only three times in the New Testament – here and in Luke 14:11 and 18:14. Jesus uses it in the phrase, “He who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus exercised His rights to waive His rights and emptied Himself of the prerogatives of His deity and temporarily divests Himself of His privileges.

“and became obedient unto death”
“Obedience” (kuperoos) is the operative word in this passage. This term verifies Jesus does not “obey death,” but rather obeys His Father’s will by dying on Calvary. His crucifixion serves to illustrate His mastery over death. When Jesus dies, no aspect of His divine nature is diminished. His obedience proves His deity, for only the Son of God can choose to die for sin. His death is the external sign of His internal devotion to His Father.

“even the death of”
Paul points out that dying as a human is not Jesus’ lowest degradation, for He dies the death of a condemned criminal slave. In emphasizing “even the death on the cross,” Paul stresses this is no ordinary execution, but one of intense suffering, shame, ignominy and reproach.

“the cross”
Crucifixion is a death so horrible it is reserved for the dregs of humanity. Cicero, who lived in the era of Christ said, “Never let crucifixion come near the thoughts, eyes or ears of a Roman.” Paul, as a Jew, knows crucifixion means a victim is excommunicated from God’s covenant. That is why the cross of Christ is a “stumbling block” to the Jews (I Cor. 1:23). Paul boldly asserts the reason for the kenosis is to purchase our salvation for all who put faith in Jesus.
The cross is the bottom rung of the ladder by which Jesus begins His return to His throne. The Son of God can stoop no lower in humiliation. If we refuse to shoulder His cross and to take the same path of shame and suffering, we do not allow “the same mind to be in us which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). How insignificant human suffering appears compared to the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the previous passage (v. 5-8), Paul contrasts what Jesus truly is with how He appears in the eyes of men. The next passage (v. 9-11) contrasts what He was prior to His Incarnation and what He becomes after His resurrection. In the first section, Paul takes us to Calvary; in this section he takes us into heaven. 

v. 9
“wherefore God hath also highly exalted him”
Humans perform His execution, but the Father performs His exaltation. Because of Jesus’ humility, suffering and death, He is exalted to the highest possible rank in the universe. Jesus is defamed by humans, but promoted by God. The phrase “highly exalted” is huperupsose and is used only here in the New Testament. Because of Jesus’ ministry on earth, God lifts Him above the glory He enjoyed prior to His incarnation. It is a long way down from a throne to a cross, but because of the subordinate position which Jesus voluntarily and obediently assumes, the Father makes Jesus’ name special and glorious. He who stooped so low is now restored to His prior equality with the Father. Jesus makes atonement for sin and the Father exalts Him above all others.

“and has given him a name which is above every name”
Jesus returns to the Father having purchased salvation for all mankind. He is not merely restored to His former glory, but in recognition of Jesus’ work of redemption, His name is made magnanimous. The term “given Him” is charisato,  meaning “to show favor and freely bestow kindness to another.” At the heart of this Greek word is the word charis (grace). The Father graciously confers upon the Son an uncontestable title. The word “name” here does not refer to a personal name, but to the office, rank, honor, dignity and achievements of the one it represents. The Greek term does not indicate a name, but the name—the ultimate title worthy of all the glory and honor that resides within it.

v. 10

“that at the name of Jesus”
Jesus receives his personal name prior to his birth; the angel Gabriel only announces His name will be Jesus (Matt. 1:21). The Hebrew name “Jesus” means “Savior,” but in Greek it is translated “Joshua.” Paul indicates the Father has made the ordinary name of Jesus into a title of honor, a name universally revered by all created beings as supreme over all others. No other name is so famous. The name dearest to God Himself is the name of His only Son. The phrase is better translated, “in the name of Jesus.” This is consistent with what Jesus says about the authority of His name when He declares, “In my name they shall cast out devils” (Mark 16:17) and “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give to you” (Luke 24:47). Paul indicates only Jesus deserves the worship of everyone as Lord of the universe.

“every knee should bow”
Isaiah uses this expression seven centuries before Jesus’ incarnation (45:23) and he is quoted by Paul in Romans 14:11. To be on one’s knees indicates subjection to another. The word “bow” indicates an open and full acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Master. The term “every” is a comprehensive word, including all humans, angels and demons. This does not mean everyone will physically bow when His name is mentioned, but that all will one day understand who He truly is.

“of things in heaven”
Hebrews 1:4 states that Jesus has a better name than the angels. Revelation 5:1-14 depicts a wonderful scene of Jesus’ majesty in the midst of heaven. Only worshippers are in heaven. Heaven is a place prepared for those who are prepared for heaven.

“and things in earth”
This statement cannot include animals, for they do not “bow” or “confess” Jesus as Lord. Paul refers here to all human beings—past,  present and future.

“and things under the earth”
The term is katachthonion and refers to departed souls. It is a synonym for all who have died. This phrase completes Paul’s summation that all created beings will one day submit to the Lordship of Jesus.

v. 11

“and that every tongue”
A better rendering is “that every tongue should thank.” Every believer should gratefully acknowledge and proclaim the Lordship of Jesus. 

“should confess”
To “confess” means to openly admit and acknowledge something. One day the entire universe will concur that Jesus is who He claims to be. Every human being, saved or lost, and every angel and demon will verbalize the fact of Jesus’ Lordship. Ultimately, everyone will know “the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 5:21).

“that Jesus Christ is Lord”
“Jesus, Christ” and “Lord” are the three primary names and titles of the Son of God. Jesus is His personal name, Christ indicates His Messiah ship and Lord refers to His supremacy over everything. Because Jesus is Lord of all, only He can be the focus of true worship. Jesus said “I am the truth” and “they who worship must worship in truth” (John 14:6 and 4:23).

“to the glory of God the Father”
It is the Father’s will that His Son is glorified. Jesus’ mission is both to please and to glorify God. Jesus prays the Father will “glorify Him with the glory which He had with Him before the world existed” (John 17:5). Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of the Father affirms that His eternal plan of salvation has been brilliantly executed. The Father exalts Jesus as the ultimate example of obedience, selflessness, forgiveness and humility. He expects these same characteristics will be exemplified in the lives of Believers.



1. The basic meaning of the term kenosis is:
A. to fulfill
B. to empty
C. to tempt
D. to work
E. to travel

2. In 2:7, Jesus is epitomized as:
A. a Lamb
B. a Victor
C. a King
D. a Servant
E. a Warrior

3. In 2:8, a key word is:
A. triumph
B. nations
C. salvation
D. spirit
E. cross






1. In 2:9, we read how God has exalted Christ. In what specific ways do you and your spouse exalt Christ each day?


2. The name of Jesus is set forth as the Name above all names (2:9-11). How sacred is the name of Jesus in your home?

3. Read Ephesians 5:33 and discuss the duty of a husband and the duty of a wife. With this in mind, rate yourselves in these areas.

4. In this passage, the Lord Jesus is set forth as the ultimate example of servanthood. List some specific things you can do to better serve your mate.



1. In 2:9, we read how God has exalted Christ. In what specific ways do you exalt Christ each day?

2. The name of Jesus is set forth as the Name above all names (2:9-11). How sacred is the name of Jesus in your mind?

3. Read Luke 22:27. Write a paragraph concerning Christ’s attitude toward servanthood. With this in mind, rate yourselves in this area.

4. In Ephesians 5:33, the Lord Jesus is set forth as the ultimate example of servanthood.
List some specific things you can do to better serve others.


Maxim of the Moment

I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate. - George Burns